Function, Flexibility and Flair
Across the industrial world, design engineers are battling on all fronts to meet the ever-tighter demands placed on modern manufactured components, whether that be for miniaturisation, lighter weight, thermal robustness, simpler production or lower cost. Technical ceramics play a vital role in these endeavours.
Technical ceramics are increasingly being brought into the picture when solutions are called for. Their unique mix of superior chemical, mechanical and electrical characteristics – allied to flexibility in shape, manufacture and interaction with other materials – means that the successful operation of thousands of distinct engineering, electronic, thermal and mechanical systems now relies heavily on them. The desirable characteristics of technical ceramics include:
- Thermal resistance and stability
- High hardness and mechanical strength
- Electrical insulation and conduction
- Wear and chemical resistance
- Corrosion resistance
- Low specific weight
- Low friction
- Near-net shaping
- Durability in service
Additionally, many of the technical ceramics used in component design are manufactured from raw materials that are still abundant, meaning that the feedstocks are subject neither to exorbitant pricing nor heavy commodity pressures. Due to their high resistance (including wear, chemical, thermal and corrosion resistance), they also provide a long service life – sometimes running for many hundreds more cycles than traditional materials – and make the lives of plant operators easier due to their reduced need for maintenance and repairs. These factors all impact on the bottom line. To better illustrate the points made above, some of the recent projects that IPS Ceramics has undertaken are being discussed in this text which clearly demonstrate how different technical ceramics provide a good fit for industrial design parameters.
Example 1: Special sintering supports
The increased use of powdered metal (PM) and metal injection moulded (MIM) parts – as well as the production of smaller low temperature co-fired ceramics (LTCCs), solid oxide fuel cell components and a variety of dental and medical ceramics – means that a better way of carrying these sorts of products through the furnace is required. For these sintering operations, the company has designed a customisable cassette system which is manufactured from 95 % alumina. Alumina provides chemical and thermal stability, relatively low weight and a long life at temperatures up to 1200 °C. The cassette has low reactivity and does not contaminate other components in the system. The cassettes have a small and compact design, with components specially machined to ensure exact tolerances and thicknesses. The modular configuration allows for a high fill density, increased flexibility and the ability to stack the cassettes on top of each other. Using alumina, the company has been able to create a compact and functional product ready to meet the demands of a wide range of growing industries.
Example 2: Safety critical considerations
Whether upgrading existing facilities or building new ones, the incorporation of fire-rated electrical enclosures is an important element of safety critical systems planning. There are many examples of these types of applications around towns, cities, ports and airports, including road tunnels, above and below ground rail, roadside and trackside applications, and major infrastructure projects. Whether in emergency lighting, fire suppression, smoke extraction or fire alarm systems, it is paramount to offer increased fire survivability for safety critical electronic circuits. Here, technical ceramics play a key role. Fire-rated enclosures are designed for use on safety critical circuits or those carrying emergency power supplies. They will maintain insulation integrity for 120 minutes during direct exposure to fire. Within these enclosures, technical ceramics are often preferred for use as terminal blocks due to their superior heat resistance properties (even in direct heat situations). These ceramics can withstand much higher internal temperatures than poly or KRG terminals and can survive fire tests up to 842 °C, enabling firerated enclosures to conform to BS EN 50200. Technical ceramics are particularly popular for applications where reliability and performance are key. Working with a leading enclosure manufacturer, the company designed both 8-way and 12-way blocks in steatite ceramic.
The design of technical ceramics is constantly evolving, involving the careful matching of material properties, manufacturing processes and product geometry in order to provide the level of performance that modern applications need. IPS Ceramics is ready to assist customers with product development and looks forward to the exciting new ways that technical ceramics will be used in the future.